Presidential Pardons for criminals, terrorists, and who else?
Posted on March 30th, 2020

By Chandre Dharmawardana.

When the family of Czar Nicholas, children, and women included,  were brutally killed by the Bolshevik revolutionaries, that was justified by a throng of intellectuals who were ready to defend anything done in the name of Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin. Clever dialectical arguments were presented as to why even the children had to be killed. More sensitive souls presented excuses rather than justifications. A  favorite one was that it is inevitable” that some bourgeois sentiments will be upset when a little extra blood is let – but all that is justified in the quest to reach the coveted end.

President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has raised the ire of human rights (HR) activists when he pardoned  Sunil Ratnayake, a former army staff sergeant,  convicted and sentenced to death for murdering eight Tamil civilians including a five-year-old child in Mirusuvil (Mirijjavila)  in  December 2000. While Sunil Ratnayake has been duly tried by the courts and found guilty, the  HR activists have included people like General Shavendra Silva and Gotabhaya  Rajapaksa himself with the same “war criminal” label.  This blunts the focus and strength of the HR claims by converting a clear mater of justice into a matter of political activism.

The Bolsheviks, Fascists and other killer ideologues of history have also found solace in using political objectives in laundering their crimes. Thus, what appears as a heinous crime” to one set of people becomes unfortunate collateral” to the opposite political camp, if we are to use the words of the Secretary of State Madeleine Albright  (a one time Amnesty International official) calmly asserting that U.S. policy objectives were worth the sacrifice of half a million Arab children.

 In his address at the annual general meeting of the TULF on 29-Dec-2012, Mr. V. Anandasangaree stated that:
The mass scale killings of the LTTE injured cadre by the LTTE itself, recruitment of child soldiers even during the last lap of the war by the LTTE, were all concealed from the voters. When some of these matters were brought to the notice of a Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Member of Parliament based in Mullaitivu, he commented that these things cannot be avoided in a war”.

While murder can have painful and disastrous consequences to the families of the victims, the political ideologues, dazzled by some nationalist, Eelamist or even Hegelian political Valhalla are ready to ride roughshod over individual humans. The regimes they set up are ready to exterminate innocents in gas chambers, gulags and in the killing fields of cultural revolutions or JVP style burning-tire”  immolations.

In an earlier era, the Portuguese soldiers and Spanish conquistadors had no qualms in using their bayonets on pregnant women’s bellies as unbaptized heathen” will end up in hell anyway! Today, violent religious fundamentalism has become an acceptable ideology which rose to destroy Churches and tourist hotels last Easter.   

A case unobscured by political ideology was the pardoning in November 2019  by President Sirisena of  Jude Jayamaha,  a well-connected Sri Lankan convicted in 2005 of murdering Yvonne Jonsson, a Swedish woman personally involved with the murderer. Why did Sirisena do so?

While a murderer should be made to pay retribution” to those affected by his crimes, what justification has the state to become a murderer and take life as punishment” for even a capital crime? In recognition of this, most civilized countries have banned capital punishment.

Unlike with a pre-meditated murder or a bond scam, a war-crime” of a soldier is the act of a war machine trained to kill, with his emotions and free will deadened by many days of drill and obedience. Add to it racist or ideologically nursed hate, coupled with the rush of adrenaline that controls the actions of the murderer who has been trained to kill by their training as soldiers, then the whole concept of trying soldiers for war crimes” becomes similar to putting down a Pavlovian dog who had been trained to kill, when it actually kills with no moral discrimination.

It is useless to talk of rules of good conduct” that apply to soldiers at war. The winners of war usually try the vanquished at war tribunals” for war crimes” using such rules, while their own warriors are not tried, but treated as heroes.

But that absurdity should not be perpetuated.

So how should we deal with our criminals and war criminals? In my view, the state is as guilty of these crimes as the accused individuals are. The state must pardon all such criminals, and rehabilitate them as far as possible. Most Pavlovian dogs can be re-trained using exactly the same Pavlovian methods. From then on, they should be made to work, even on user manual jobs, and a part of their earnings should be used to pay retribution” to the victims of their crimes. The state too must add an equal amount to the retributive pay”, as the state is equally guilty of the crimes, as are the individuals. Of course, these principles do not apply to premeditated crimes where the intent to commit the act existed over a time period.  A different set of principles, based on a person’s community of friends” and its values, economic conditions, as well as the psychiatric condition of the accused must be assessed. But most courts of law do not follow such principles or conduct experiments in neuroscience on accused individuals. If they do, they err on the wrong side, for example, by relying on the pseudoscience of  “lie detectors”.

Neuroscience has taught us that the degree of free will” that humans have is indeed very limited, and most of their actions are controlled by processes not powered by the conscious mind.  For instance, if you see someone approaching you, and recognize her as a friend, you may decide to shake her hand or embrace her. But neuroscience shows that the unconscious mind had already made that decision long before the conscious mind knows of it. The conscious mind is only subsequently informed” of the course of action to take, and then it identifies with the course of action thinking” that you decided” to follow the prescribed action (remarkably enough, this was already known to the 19th-century physicist and physiologist Helmholtz). That is, what we do, what we decide to do, and how much of it is our own conscious volition or unconscious-conditioned action, are a gray area that even careful neuroscience experiments cannot easily clarify. This is why Human Rights” claims often go counter to the facts of neuroscience.

So, the only scientifically rational action is to pardon almost all criminals and look for ways to rehabilitate them, while the pardoned criminals are made to compensate the victims and dependents by their own earnings, augmented by a contribution from the state which is equally guilty of the crime in most cases. Such an approach can also be justified by the compassionate teachings of most religions, while a majority of Sri Lankans should know what the Buddha taught. He even enrolled the rehabilitated serial killer Angulimala into his order of the Sangha. Human Rights Watch of the time, run by well-heeled Brahmins, surely did not approve!

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